Pádraig Harrington revels in the thought of return to Augusta

Three-time major winner looking to make amends after failing to qualify for Masters in 2014

Padraig Harrinton is excited to return to Augusta after missing out in 2014. Photograph: Getty

Padraig Harrinton is excited to return to Augusta after missing out in 2014. Photograph: Getty

 

At the age of 43 Pádraig Harrington will feel a childlike excitement when he travels to Augusta National next week. The pain of failing to qualify for the Masters a year ago is still raw enough for the Irishman to appreciate this return.

“It’s like going there for the first time,” Harrington says. “It was a big miss last year. It’s funny; all my family are going, while in other years it was: ‘Ah, we’ll wait and we’ll go another year.’ But obviously now that I’ve missed one they’re fearing this will be the last time they are going. It’s good, though. It feels like I’m a rookie.”

Harrington’s Masters place was sealed by what was a widely welcomed - if perhaps surprise - victory at the Honda Classic in early March. He will compete in the Shell Houston Open from today, the same venue at which he failed in a last-ditch bid to play in the 2014 Masters.

Harrington has won three majors and recalls of last year: “It was tough. I watched it all at home and it wasn’t nice. Because, you know, even when I was out of form I always thought I had a chance at any major so I was gutted to miss out on not so much the experience - amazing as it is at Augusta - but on the chance to win a Green Jacket.

“Every player thinks that when they’re in form it’s going to keep going that way and they’re never going to get older or anything like that. Hopefully I’ll play well for a while now; that’s always been my modus operandi over the years. I’ve had peaks and troughs and you always try to keep the peak as long as you can. My wins tend to come together so hopefully I’ll win a few more.”

Second Captains

During his quest to return from the golfing doldrums Harrington turned to the psychologist Steve Peters - an expert, that is, who is perhaps most famous for his unusual mind model book, The Chimp Paradox.

“I hadn’t hit a golf shot in four or five years that I hadn’t found something wrong with,” Harrington says. “Every single shot, even if I’d hit it stone dead. The trick is not to think anything about it. I turned myself into someone who analysed everything to the nth degree. I could write the book on the mental game. I’ve spent 25 years of my life working hard on that side.

“I started working with Steve last summer and he really helped me out. I don’t generally tell people about The Chimp Paradox. It’s a hard one to explain, that one. I rather tell people about the subconscious and the conscious. My big mistake was that I read the book - as I read all the sports psychology books out there - and didn’t think it applied to me.

“I assumed the chimp was very aggressive, loud, always jumping out there, the type of guy who throws clubs and loses his temper. Which isn’t me. My chimp is a lot quieter, a lot more behind-the-scenes sort of guy but he needs serious quietening down and a lot of reassuring like everyone else. My chimp was definitely doing a lot of damage and still does.

“But you accept it and get on with it and think that’s just the way it is. I don’t lose my temper. I don’t show it. It’s more deep-rooted. It never was a swing thing. It was a mental thing. I won my three majors because my focus was so good.”

Harrington, who won his first major at the 2007 Open, was the last player seeking to win a third major in succession when teeing up at the Masters in 2009, having won the Open and US PGA the previous year. Rory McIlroy is looking to achieve that very feat and complete a career grand slam this time around.

“I’d have to say of the expectations they get more and more the more you win,” says Harrington of McIlroy’s biggest hurdle. “And it’s difficult. But Rory is in a good position where he likes that feeling of expectation on him. He’s had it on him, to varying degrees, since he was a kid.

“Augusta’s a tough course, though, and you don’t want to have any fear or inhibitions on that course. You have got to play golf. you can’t protect anything.

“In many ways that is Rory’s career, isn’t it - what is he going to do in the majors? So it is a long wait between them, seven months. When I went for it I remember starting well but that’s about it. I would have been realistic and told myself, ‘Look, I want to win one of those but it doesn’t have to be this week.’ That’d have been my attitude, trying to play it down a bit. It’ll be the same this time as well.” Guardian Service

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